Michael Keenan criticised for holding ‘one-sided’ meetings with gun lobby

 

Exclusive: Gun control advocates say they were excluded from private meetings the justice minister held with firearms lobby on a review of Australia’s gun laws
 Letter signed by gun control advocates calls for ‘unbiased’ review of laws
 Minutes from Michael Keenan’s 2015 meetings with firearms lobby groups

Michael Keenan
 Justice minister Michael Keenan told firearms lobby groups in a private meeting in September 2015 that the government wanted to cut ‘red tape’ from gun regulation. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

A group of 30 domestic violence groups, gun control advocates, politicians and prominent Australians has criticised the federal justice minister, Michael Keenan, for holding “one-sided” meetings in 2015 with the firearms lobby on changes to Australia’s gun laws.

Minutes from the firearms reference industry group obtained by Guardian Australia show Keenan told firearms lobby groups in a private meeting in September 2015 that the government wanted to cut “red tape” from gun regulation.

According to the minutes, “The government is keen to simplify the regulations and the bureaucracy to lessen the red tape for firearms users,” Keenan said at the outset of one meeting. The regulations discussed at that meeting related predominantly to sports shooting.

The documents also show the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia saying their members “haven’t learned properly” and some were being targeted by organised crime as a source of illegal weapons.

The minister’s “one-sided” consultation process and comments have sparked serious concerns from unions, public health groups, domestic violence advocates, politicians and others who support gun control in Australia.

They say the federal government’s review of the landmark 1996 national firearms agreement has now departed from the purpose set down following the Sydney siege, and appears to be shifting towards an opportunity to wind back gun control.

Although gun control groups have been involved in consultations surrounding the review, few have had direct access to the minister. No comparable forum to the firearms reference groups exists for them.

More than 20 prominent Australians have signed the open letter to Keenan expressing their concerns about the minister’s representations, and calling for the opportunity to put their own case to the minister in the same direct way as the firearms lobby.

The signatories include Martha Jabour from the Homicide Victims’ Support Group, the former New South Wales director of public prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery, the Greens senator Lee Rhiannon, the NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge, Simon Chapman AO, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, the Women’s Legal Service NSW, Gun Control Australia and the founder of the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, Walter Mikac.

The meeting minutes show that in August and September 2015 Keenan took two meetings with the firearms industry reference groups. It is made up of only firearms groups. Attendees included representatives from the National Firearms Dealers Association, the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia, Field and Game Australia, Shooting Australia and the Shooting Industry Foundation of Australia.

At a later point in the September 2015 meeting, following a discussion of a decision by the South Australian government to require police approval for a person to join a gun club, the minutes note that Keenan said: “The minister agreed that uniformity is sensible, but that he can only work within what is in the commonwealth’s power.

“He noted that he would taken some of these ideas to the states and territories but that he could not make any guarantees unless there is will from them.”

The minutes show the firearms lobby groups putting forward a range of views on the reduction of restrictions to firearms including:

  • Field and Game Australia expressed concerns to the minister about a recent change in South Australia requiring police approval to join a gun club, which they say has created a “backlog of applicants”. The general manager, David McNabb, subsequently told Guardian Australia that South Australia had an “anomalous” system that some members had raised in conversation compared with other states and territories that was holding up their registrations.
  • The Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia described as “red tape” the checks currently required for a person to purchase multiple firearms. At the same time, the SSAA also stated its own members continued to be targeted by organised criminal over the last 12 years because they “hadn’t learned properly” about appropriate firearm handling, use and storage. They suggested an advertising campaign to focus on greater security and treating “firearms as a health issue”.
  • Shooting Australia told the minister “restrictions on the use of firearms by minors is also an impediment”, in relation to competitive shooting.
  • The National Firearms Dealers Association raised concerns about the “communication between states” and poor record-keeping surrounding firearms registration. The chair of the association, Luca Scribani Rossi, told the meeting he had firearms still registered to his company that he had sold in 2011. Rossi told Guardian Australia “there are some of the jurisdictions that are better than others, but there seems to be a little bit of a breakdown in registration when a firearm changes from one state to another one”.

The open letter from Australian proponents of gun control, which has been published in full by Guardian Australia, says the meetings contain “not a single gun control or community safety advocate”.

“Unsurprisingly, these meetings ignore community safety issues and instead focus on watering down the [national firearms agreement], importing more guns, increasing children’s access to weapons and removing limits on firearms ownership,” it said.

“If the review of the NFA is to retain credibility you must give at least equal access to gun control advocates. Gun violence can affect people in their relationships, their workplaces, their homes or the public domain.

“So it is essential you officially engage with representatives from the public health sector, criminologists, gun control advocates, unions, domestic violence workers and victim support groups.”

Sam Lee, the chair of Gun Control Australia said: “It is shameful a review that was meant to improve and modernise our gun laws in order to prevent any future sieges, has turned into a review about reducing gun law ‘red tape’ and ways of improving gun sport.

“Instead of standing up to the gun lobby the justice minister has acted as the genie in the bottle hearing all their wishes.”

The release of the meeting minutes comes amid increasing scrutiny over gun access in Australia, and a failure of the state and territory police ministers to agree to reclassify lever-action shotguns that exceed a five magazine capacity from their current level. This was catalysed by particular concerns over the Adler 110.

The federal government has imposed a temporary ban on lever-action shotgun importations until the state and territories reach an agreement, but they failed to do so at a meeting of ministers last week.

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